Employment tribunals

Employment tribunals are intended to resolve disputes between employers and employees. In the event of being taken to an employment tribunal you will receive the originating application made by the claimant (the ET1) together with a Notice of Appearance (ET3) for you to compete as the Respondent. The Notice of Appearance enables you to answer the complaint made in the application. 

You must complete and return the Notice of Appearance within 21 days of receipt of the Application. Failure to meet this deadline will result in you losing your right to resist the applicant's claim.

The completed Notice of Appearance will be forwarded to the applicant with a copy being sent to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). ACAS's role is to endeavour to resolve the dispute by negotiating with both parties and to try to reach an agreement without the need for a tribunal hearing. Before submitting his or her claim the claimant will have needed to apply to ACAS for early conciliation and will need to have submitted an Early Conciliation Certficate to the Tribunal with his or her claim. In practice, ACAS works to a very limited budget (approximately £85.00 per case). As a result, the extent to which they can negotiate a settlement to a complex dispute is heavily restricted. 

At the same time as any negotiations are being conducted, the tribunal or opposing parties may request additional information (full and further particulars) relating to the Application or the Notice of Appearance. The Tribunal was also require a Preliminary Hearing (Case Management Meeting) to clarify the grounds fo the case and instruct both parties as to their respective responsibilities in preparing for the full hearing. Witness statements and supporting documentation should be prepared to support the Notice of Appearance and be forwarded to the opposing party and the Tribunal prior to the hearing as these documents will form part of the 'bundle' of documents to be referred to at the hearing. 

Where the appearance of witnesses is vital to support a particular case but witnesses are unwilling you may ask the Tribunal to issue a Witness Order to compel them to attend. 

The Tribunal hearing 

If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will move to a tribunal hearing. This is reached by the following sequence of events:

  • Firstly, the tribunal will write to you at least 14 days before the date of the hearing this is called the Notice of Hearing. A booklet entitled 'Hearings at Employment Tribunals' will accompany the notice which is intended to answer employers' questions and help them prepare;
  • If the date set for the hearing is difficult for you to attend you should contact the tribunal office immediately to request a postponement. Postponements are granted entirely at tribunal's discretion and, if the tribunal agrees to your request they will write to you to confirm this. Until written confirmation has been received you should not assume that your request has been granted.

A panel of three people will hear the case. This panel will comprise a Chairman and two lay members.

There are no hard and fast rules as to which side presents their case first. However, in most unfair dismissal cases, where the employer admits that a dismissal has taken place, the employer will usually go first. Witnesses will be asked to read their statements out load, under oath, and will be questioned by both the Tribunal panel and the opposing side's representative.  When both sides have given their evidence, each side's representative will present 'pleadings', referring the panel to any relevant case law and the Resondent's representative will ask questions as to the efforts the claimant has made to mitigate his or her loss. 

When both side's case has been heard the panel will consider the relative merits of each and reach a decision. When the outcome of the tribunal has been decided, the Chairman will announce the decision and give reasons for this. A full written decision will be prepared and sent to both parties.

Appealing a decision 

Appeals against a tribunal's decision can be made to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT). Appeals must be made within 42 days of the receipt of the full decision of the tribunal. To start the appeal proceedings the employer must compete Form 1 which will be sent with the Notice of Appeal. Once this has been submitted, the EAT will inform you of what steps need to be taken, they will also send you any forms or leaflets that may be required.